Dill (Anethum graveolens) is a small, delicate, annual herb native to warm climates like Asia and India. A member of the carrot family and closely related to fennel, dill is the only member of the Anethum genus (a little-known botanical factoid for you gardening buffs). The herb made its first historical appearance in Egypt, and has been used for centuries in the south of Russia and parts of the Mediterranean; it now has particular prominence in Nordic and Scandinavian cuisine.
Dill seeds are light brown and ovular, small (less than an eighth of an inch), and have several ridges on their surface. The leaves, which are threadlike and somewhat fragile, are a deep green and protrude from thin but tough stalks. The plant has tiny flowers which are yellow in color and clustered together in small groups (they look like upside down umbrellas or chandeliers). Indian dill (Anethum graveolens ‘Sowa’), which used to be considered a different species but is now listed as a dill variety, is taller than true dill and has a more bitter flavor; it’s most commonly used in Indian curries and masala dishes.
Dill is relatively easy to grow and is somewhat drought resistant, and therefore is a popular garden or herb-box plant. Requiring only direct sunlight and rich soil with adequate drainage, the plant will sprout quickly and is easily harvested with a pair of scissors.
Dill leaves (aka dill weed) have a pleasantly crisp “green” flavor with mildly bitter undertones contributed by the seeds, which are more potent in flavor. The seeds and leaves can be used together or individually.
The herb’s distinctive and aromatic sweet scent comes from its leaves and stalks, and transfers best to food when used fresh.
Dill is one of those herbs that does not define a specific cuisine but is used in varying amounts by cooks in many parts of the world. It is most famous in Western cuisine as the main flavoring agent in “dill pickles,” the popular delicatessen side order; pickling liquids in general, whether they are for eggs, fish, meat, etc., tend to include dill. The herb does make its most frequent appearances in Scandinavian and Russian cuisine, showing up in sauerkraut, borscht, marinades, casseroles, soups, flavored vinegars, and even vodka. Greek, Mediterranean, and Indian cookery also utilize the green as vegetable, preparing large batches in the same manner as popular leafy greens vegetables (like spinach or chard) and serving it with rice. Yogurt and sour cream based sauces also favor dill’s pleasing flavor – the Greek meze item tzatziki comes to mind (an appetizer/dip made from strained yogurt, cucumbers, onion, garlic, olive oil and dill, served alongside gyros, kebabs, or simple crudités).
Dill, like most herbs, has a history of medicinal usage dating back as far as the Middle Ages. The Ancient Greeks and Romans used dill seed to heal wounds and strengthen the immune system, while superstitious villagers in Medieval Europe preferred it as a talisman against witchcraft or as part of love potions. More recent history has seen it utilized as a treatment for upset stomach and/or digestive issues.
Use and Storage
Dill leaves are best used when fresh as the flavor diminishes significantly during the drying process (though they can be frozen for several months if needed). They are also sensitive to intense heat – be sure to add them to hot items like soups or stews right before serving to prevent flavor loss.
Dill seeds have a remarkably long shelf life when kept in an airtight container out of direct sunlight. They can be used whole or ground (try using spice mill or old-fashioned mortar and pestle).
Use It (How to/where)
- in dips or sauces for crudités and chips
- in fish dishes
- in soups and stews
- with roasted or baked potatoes
- paired with cucumbers (tzatziki sauce, cucumber salad, etc.)
- chopped and added to fresh greens salads
- on tea sandwiches
- in mild cream sauces
- in stuffing
- to flavor roasted vegetables
- in egg dishes
- to season ground beef for meat pies or stuffed vegetables
- for pickling
Recipe using Dill
Tuna-Salad with Dill and Cucumbers
Simple, fresh, and a wonderful finger food for warm weather parties or BBQ’s.
2 cans albacore tuna
Mayonnaise (usually ¼ cup, but as much or as little as you prefer)
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt to taste
Fresh ground pepper to taste
2 cucumbers, skinned
One bunch fresh dill, leaves only
2-3 tablespoons capers, drained (optional)
Skin cucumbers and cut into rounds. Place on a tray in the refrigerator to chill. Combine canned tuna and mayonnaise in a small bowl. Mix thoroughly with fork or spoon. Add lemon juice, capers, salt, and pepper. Mix again. Place bowl in refrigerator to chill. When cucumbers and tuna salad are chilled, use a teaspoon to place one spoonful of salad on each cucumber round. Garnish rounds with dill leaves. Keep chilled until serving.
Green Goddess Dressing
This creamy dressing is wonderful with salads, crudités, and vegetable or potato chips.
½ cup sour cream
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
½ avocado, mashed
1 cup fresh parsley
1 tablespoon fresh tarragon
1 tablespoon fresh dill
1 tablespoon fresh mint
1 garlic clove, peeled
Salt and pepper, to taste
Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth and creamy.